You Can’t Always Get What You Want: Dealing with Rejection

Person in white lab coat sits on swing looking thoughtfulWhich is worse: that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach after that person you just had a promising first date with says they don’t see it going further, or receiving a call from a recruiter who tells you the company you desperately want to work for has decided to hire someone else?

They are both forms of rejection—decisions by others to not go forward with a relationship you hoped to have. Do you like your rejection as a gentle letdown or as a quick blow? In one scenario, you are left to figure out why you aren’t wanted. In the other, you are told why. And in both, you are left to wonder what other potential suitors have that you don’t. When we are rejected, we tend to revisit the things we said and did, reimagining situations where we might come out on top.

Even if we didn’t want the date or the job, we still want some control, perhaps the opportunity to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” We want the power to do the rejecting. We will do almost anything to avoid that helpless feeling that comes when someone takes the decision away from us. This feeling often overtakes the truths we know about ourselves.

The logical part of the brain knows we aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. We know there will be those who are better suited for certain jobs. The people I meet in therapy often laugh when we discuss this idea, because what we must believe in when we let rejection get to us is actually quite silly. However, rejection has hidden benefits lurking beneath those burning feelings of disappointment, anger, embarrassment, humiliation, and self-criticism. One is the opportunity to practice resilience. In dealing with rejection, we get a chance to seek a better fit for ourselves and trust that the relationship or situation we wanted wasn’t right and a better one is still out there. If we get invested in dating someone who isn’t as invested in us or in doing a job that doesn’t value our skills, we aren’t investing in more fulfilling or rewarding people and situations.

One of the most difficult feelings that often comes with rejection is embarrassment. By feeling embarrassed when we fall short of a goal, we convey to others a sense of, “I’m not good enough, and now everyone can see that.” Rejection is a part of life that everyone experiences in one fashion or another, so to feel embarrassment is to believe in the illusion we are universally wanted and should be seen by others as such. That’s neither realistic nor fair.

Rejection has hidden benefits lurking beneath those burning feelings of disappointment, anger, embarrassment, humiliation, and self-criticism. One is the opportunity to practice resilience.

It is especially problematic when an experience of rejection snowballs and affects your self-worth. It can be exhausting to go out on the job market or dating scene and endure countless interviews and meet-ups that don’t lead to what you want. Often I see people in my office who need to be reminded of their worth and to consider a different approach to looking for a job or partner. Many people interpret meaning and patterns from their experiences. For example, they may decide they should never talk about enjoying time with their baby nephew because it “scares away” potential dates who might not be ready for kids. Or they conclude they don’t have the problem-solving skills it takes for the kind of job they want after a phone screening doesn’t net an in-person interview.

It is easy and tempting to invent reasons we don’t get what we want, but therapy can help sort through what is real and what is not.

The next time you encounter rejection, keep in mind the following ideas:

  • It’s okay to take some time to lick your wounds. Be sure that when you do this it is healthy and productive. Spend time with others who can build you up and remind you of your worth. It can be useful to have a session or two of therapy to avoid coming to unproductive conclusions about your experiences. Cognitive behavioral and solution-focused therapy, among others, can help you stay focused on your goals and strengths.
  • Just because you want something doesn’t mean it would be a good fit. It is easy to idealize a person or situation, but that involves putting blinders on to what might not work.
  • You don’t want to be in a situation where you aren’t welcomed with open arms. Ultimately, it is not worth chasing someone who is lukewarm or indifferent to what you have to offer.
  • Practice gratitude for what you have, even if it’s not what you want. Being unemployed can bring on depression and anxiety, among other issues, yet many people in stable or unfulfilling jobs look enviously at the free time some people have. Focusing on the positive aspects of your situation, no matter how few and far between they may be, can be powerful. It can also help you practice resilience; you can make meaning of life events so they add up to a life well-lived, even if you didn’t get to make all the decisions.

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Marcy

    July 5th, 2016 at 7:51 AM

    Don’t you think that there are more children than ever before who are not getting this message? I think that in an effort to be super parents we forget that life isn’t always only about giving our kids everything that they want. Sometimes we can’t have it all, and we have to get used to that at times. Life is all about what we work to achieve and not only the things that are handed to us on a silver platter.

  • lacey

    July 5th, 2016 at 1:09 PM

    losing a job when you desperately need that job most definitely hurts the most

  • Kelvin

    July 6th, 2016 at 8:05 AM

    Even though it can be painful I do try to take a moment to reflect on why this may have actually been a good thing, me not getting exactly what I thought that I wanted. It might not have been the right fit or it might not have been the right time, but I try to see it as there had to be some reason that I don’t know about yet and I try to accept that and then move on.

  • baxter

    July 6th, 2016 at 2:31 PM

    Please, my mom would have just told me to suck it up and deal with it

  • Brandi

    July 7th, 2016 at 12:12 PM

    I always try to tell my kids that what doesn’t kill them will make them stronger. I think that the ones who always have everything that they desire handed to them end up being pretty weak adults.

  • Ernest

    July 8th, 2016 at 10:47 AM

    Sure is easier to teach this to a child then a grown man.

    I definitely think that a child can handle that much better when they learn it from a young age.

  • Donnie

    July 11th, 2016 at 2:34 PM

    I see so many parents today going the extra mile for their kids and I wonder if in the end this is going to b of any value to them at all. What are they learning from this? That mom and dad are always going to be right there to step in and save them if they mess things up? I want to keep my kids from getting hurt too but I also want to teach them that if they get into trouble they can save themselves too. There has to be a balance there, showing them that they can do things on their own but that you will be there for them when they need you.

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